Efforts to Combat Corruption in Mexico Exemplify the Depth of the Problem

06/11/19 (written by kheinle) — One of the defining pillars of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (2018-2024) presidential campaign platform was his commitment to root out corruption in Mexico. Just six months after taking office, his administration has made some advances in several cases against high profile individuals and/or government officials. However, such efforts, as described below, also demonstrate just how pervasive the problem of corruption is in Mexico.

Judicial Branch

Allegations recently came forth that implicate members of the judiciary, including those at the highest level of the Supreme Court (Suprema Corte de Justicia Nacional, SCJN).

District Courts

Map of Mexico

Information shared with the Federal Judicial Council in late 2018 showed the documented cases of corruption, irregularities, and serious offenses in Mexico’s courts. Source: El Universal, Elaboración Propia.

First, news came out in early June that Mexico’s Federal Judiciary (Poder Judicial de la Federación) had documented cases of serious abuses by judges and magistrates throughout Mexico from 2014 to 2018. El Universal reported that the cases involved crimes of corruption, collusion, ties with organized crime, nepotism, and sexual harassment, among others. The charges led to 49 district judges and 39 magistrates being sanctioned for their “irregularities” in the courts. Another 15 judges and magistrates were ultimately dismissed from the bench for having committed serious offenses.

Information on the alleged abuses were turned over to Mexico’s Federal Judicial Council (Consejo de la Judicatura Federal, CJF) at the end of 2018. The investigations found the states of Jalisco, Puebla, San Luis Potosí, Veracruz, and Zacatecas were involved. Jalisco, in particular, has since garnered the most attention from Supreme Court Justice President Arturo Zaldívar Lelo de Larrea to address the problem. This has included disciplinary action against justice system operators and reassignment of positions, among others. Justice Zaldívar reported success with the focused efforts. “Particularly in the state of Jalisco,” he said on May 3, “which is one of the circuits that we had learned had been dealing with all sorts of problems, we have begun to overhaul the circuit. We feel it is important to issue reassignments in order to have new blood.”

Supreme Court

Accusations of corruption within the courts then extended to the Supreme Court not a few weeks after. On June 6, the Director of the Mexican Financial Intelligence Unit (Unidad Inteligencia Financiera, UIF), Santiago Nieto Castillo, announced that the Mexican Senate had requested his agency to look into suspicious money transfers made to the overseas accounts of sitting SCJN Justice Eduardo Medina-Mora Icaza (2015-present). An Op-Ed piece by Salvador García Soto in El Universal on June 5 reported that between 2016 and 2018, the United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency documented a total of $2.4 million (USD) deposited into Justice Medina Mora’s HSBC UK account. The U.S. Treasury Department reported similar transfers in the amount of $2.1 million (USD) into his HSBC USA account during the same time period.

One day after García’s piece was published, the Senate initiated proceedings for the UIF to begin its investigation. After the news broke, President López Obrador reminded Mexicans that Justice Medina is not guilty simply because suspicious activity was reported, and that his government was looking into it.

PEMEX and Altos Hornos de México

Mexican Supreme Court Justice and former Mexican president

Supreme Court Justice Medina-Mora (right) with former President Enrique Peña Nieto (left). Source: Zeta Tijuana.

Just before the allegations against Justice Medina-Mora came out, The Wall Street Journal reported that the López Obrador administration launched its first high-profile case against corruption in late-May. The case involves former CEO of Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), Emilio Lozoya Austin, and former head of Altos Hornos de México, Alonso Ancira Elizondo. Pemex is Mexico’s state-owned petroleum company, whereas Altos Hornos de México is one of the nation’s largest steelmakers.

Both men are alleged to have engaged in making illegal payments through their former companies, either with unlawful earnings in Lozoya’s case or through shell companies in that of Ancira Elizondo. According to Mexico’s Financial Intelligence Unit (UIF), which is overseeing the investigations, “multiple operations were identified in the domestic and international financial system that were carried out with resources that allegedly do not come from lawful activities and which are presumed to have derived from acts of corruption.” The López Obrador administration has since frozen the bank accounts and assets of Lozoya and Ancira while the investigations unfold. “The Mexican government’s policy is zero tolerance for corruption and impunity,” said the UIF Director Nieto Castillo.

The López Obrador Administration

President López Obrador has held up his campaign promise and made corruption one of his biggest focuses since taking office. The high-profile cases against Pemex’s Lozoya Austin and Altos Hornos de México’s Ancira Elizondo, the dismissal of 15 district judges and magistrates, and the launch of the investigation into sitting SCJN Justice Medina-Mora, however, demonstrate the magnitude of the work President López Obrador has ahead.

In Justice in Mexico’s annual report, “Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico: Analysis Through 2018,” the authors provided recommendations for ways the López Obrador Administration and others could combat corruption in Mexico. “Mexican civic organizations, international agencies, and foreign governments can help Mexico crackdown on corruption,” they argue. “For example, foreign governments can investigate corruption claims and, where appropriate, deny travel privileges or freeze the assets of Mexican nationals wanted on corruption charges.” It continued, “International foundations and non-governmental organizations can partner with Mexican anti-corruption agencies and organizations to provide much needed funding and technical assistance.”

To read the full report, click here.

 

Sources:

Calderón, Laura et al. “Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico: Analysis Through 2018.” Justice in Mexico. April 2019.

Lastiri, Diana. “Jalisco ‘foco rojo’ de la corrupción en Poder Judicial.” El Universal. May 16, 2019.

Esposito, Anthony. “Mexico takes aim at former Pemex CEO in fight against graft.” Reuters. May 27, 2019.

Harrup, Anthony and Juan Montes. “Mexican Investigators File Corruption Charges Against Pemex Ex-CEO.” The Wall Street Journal. May 27, 2019.

“Alonso Ancira Elizondo, el dueño de Altos Hornos que detenido en España.” Milenio. May 28, 2019.

Guthrie, Amy. “Mexico freezes oil exec, steel accounts in corruption probe.” The Associated Press. May 28, 2019.

“Today in Latin America.” Latin America News Dispatch. May 29, 2019.

Lastiri Diana. “Destituyen a 15 jueces por acoso y corrupción.” El Universal. June 4, 2019.

García Soto, Salvador. “Opinión: Las transferencias millonarias del ministro Medina Mora.” El Universal. June 5, 2019.

Álvarez, Carlos. “Unidad de Inteligencia Financiera analizará depósitos a ministro Eduardo Medina Mora.” Zeta Tijuana. June 7, 2019.

Second OASIS workshop of 2018 is completed at UANL

03/09/18 (written by Genesis Lopez) – Justice in Mexico’s Oral Adversarial Skill Building Immersion Seminar (OASIS) program held its second oral advocacy workshop of 2018 from February 23- March 3, 2018, working collaboratively with the Department of Law and Criminology (Facultad de Derecho y Criminología, FACDYC) at the Autonomous University of Nuevo León (Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León, UANL) in Monterrey. The OASIS program, funded through the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, emphasizes oral litigation skills, which are provided through these workshops.

The extensive two-week workshop provided critical instruction regarding the oral techniques central to Mexico’s Criminal Justice System. Approximately 85 participants, law professors and students from UANL, attended the workshop. OASIS Training Director Janice Deaton led a diverse team of instructors from Colombia, Mexico, and the United States. These instructors included: Christopher Pastrana, Bertha Alcalde, Anthony Da Silva, Jorge Gutiérrez, Michael Mandig, Albert Amado, Adriana Blanco, Carlos Varela and Iker Ibarreche.

The instructors addressed seven major topics:

Theory of the case: The strategy behind the decisions and actions a lawyer takes. This assists the participants in making strategic decisions, which help solve a case.

Opening Statements: Understanding the importance opening statements have in regards to the trial, specifically the jury. Participants learned how to prepare and present an effective opening statement.

Interrogation: Establishing the credibility of the witnesses, laying out the scene, and introducing the events that took place in relationship to the case.

Cross-Interrogation: Questioning of a witness where the opposing party looks to discredit their testimony and credibility.

Introducing Evidence: Determining whether or not the evidence one wishes to present is real, testimonial, demonstrative, or documental.

Use of Depositions: Understanding how to utilize previous statements, especially to refresh a witness’s memory during trial.

Closing Statements: Reiterating the important arguments, theories, and evidence that are relevant to the case. Participants learned how to structure their closing arguments and strengthen their communication skills.

At the conclusion of the workshop, the participants attended a plenary session on ethics and applied the skills they learned in a mock trial. The simulation was designed specifically for the OASIS program and gave the participants the opportunity to showcase what they earned over the course of two weeks. They adopted specific roles and the instructors acted as judges, overseeing the trial and providing feedback.

At the closing ceremony, the FACDYC Director, Oscar Lugo Serrato spoke with Justice in Mexico’s Program Coordinator, Octavio Rodriguez and discussed the importance of practical trainings like the OASIS workshop. They also discussed the significance of bi-national relationships between universities. The next OASIS workshop will take place at the (Universidad de Guadalajara, UdeG), ­­­from April 13 –April 21, 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mexico’s Fugitive Former Governor Javier Duarte Taken into Custody

Javier Duarte, under custody of Guatemalan authorities, is awaiting formal extradition to Mexico. Source: Prensa Libre

Javier Duarte, under custody of Guatemalan authorities, is awaiting formal extradition to Mexico. Source: Prensa Libre

05/8/17 (written by Lucy Clement La Rosa) – The Guatemalan National Civil Police (Policía Nacional Civil, PNC) detained former governor of Mexico’s Veracruz state, Javier Duarte de Ochoa, on the evening of April 15 in Panajachel, Sololá, Guatemala. Duarte has been a fugitive of Mexico since October 2016, evading allegations of money laundering by the federal Attorney General’s Office of Mexico (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR).

According to Manuel Noriega, deputy director of Interpol in Guatemala, Duarte was found at a hotel in Panajachel. Mexican officials informed Duarte that he had been found and requested that he give himself up to the Guatemalan authorities. Duarte did so voluntarily. Observing diplomatic relations with the PGR, the detention was conducted as a joint operation between the PNC and Guatemala’s Interpol office.

Duarte was taken to the military prison, Matamoros, in Guatemala City. He will remain there until Mexico presents a formal request for extradition to the federal Attorney General’s office of Guatemala. Mexico will have 60 days to request Duarte’s extradition. The PGR released information on the day of Duarte’s arrest confirming that they intend to pursue extradition. Furthermore, the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI) expressed their public support of the Guatemalan authorities and their role in detaining Duarte.

Duarte is not the only PRI-affiliated politician that has been charged with allegations of corruption in recent weeks. Former Mexican state governor of Tamaulipas, Tomás Yarrington, was captured in early April by Italian authorities on charges of corruption in response to a U.S. extradition request, which was an embarrassment to Mexican authorities. César Duarte, who was also wanted for similar charges of corruption was captured just a week later by Mexican authorities.

Institutional Corruption in Mexico

Since disappearing six months ago, Duarte became a regional symbol of institutional corruption in Mexico. A former public official of the PRI, Duarte was accused of corruption and misappropriating state funds through his position in public office. The PGR began investigating these accusations in July of 2016.

Javier Duarte, some months before he fled Mexico, standing outside of PRG headquarters in Mexico City. Source: The New York Times

Javier Duarte, some months before he fled Mexico, standing outside of PGR headquarters in Mexico City.
Source: The New York Times

By September, Mexican authorities believed that Duarte used false identities and phantom companies to relocate public funds for personal benefit, which included acquiring over a dozen vacation homes. One month later, local congressional authorities reported that financial irregularities tied to Duarte’s dealings in 2015 accounted for more than $16,000 million Mexican pesos (about $850 million USD).

Duarte, who served as governor of Veracruz for nearly six years, resigned on October 12, 2016. One week later, a federal judge issued a warrant for his arrest. Although he publicly denied all charges, Duarte fled Mexico before he could be detained.

Duarte was expelled from the PRI on October 25, 2016 and soon after; the PGR offered $15 million pesos for information leading to his whereabouts. Additionally, President Enrique Peña Nieto condemned Duarte’s actions before Mexico’s Supreme Court of the Nation (Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación).

Although Javier Duarte has not denied the allegations pursuant to his imminent extradition, he has refused immediate and voluntary repatriation, requesting that Mexico formally pursue his extradition. According to César García, the Guatemalan judge presiding over Duarte’s extradition, this process may take anywhere from four to six months.

Sources

Malkin, Elisabeth and Paulina Villegas. “Warrant for Mexican Ex-Official, Now on the Run, Is Seen as a Step in Graft Fight. The New York Times. October 20, 2016.

“Javier Duarte, exgobernador prófugo de Veracruz, fue detenido en Guatemala.” Univisión. April 15, 2017.

“Fugitive Mexican Ex-Gov. Javier Duarte Detained in Guatemala.” The New York Times. April 15,2017.

“Javier Duarte, exgobernador de Veracruz, capturado en Guatemala, fue recluido en Matamoros. “Prensa Libre. April 16, 2017.

“Javier Duarte, recluido en cárcel militar Matamoros, Guatemala.” Diario de Xalapa. April 16, 2017.

Ramos, Jerson and Mynor Toc. “Javier Duarte rechaza ser extraditado a México.” Prensa Libre. April 19, 2017.

“La detención de Javier Duarte, lo más viral de la semana.” El Universal. April 22, 2017.

 

 

 

Judicial Roulette: The current Mexican judicial system from a journalist’s perspective

Originally published in Reforma, February 15, 2017 as “Ruleta Judicial”.

By Sergio Aguayo
Twitter: @sergioaguayo

Dr. Sergio Aguayo, professor at the Colegio de México and journalist, currently facing a very grave threat to his freedom of expression and academic research under the Mexican judicial system.

Dr. Sergio Aguayo, professor at the Colegio de México and journalist, currently facing a very grave threat to his freedom of expression and academic research under the Mexican judicial system.

It is difficult to achieve justice in Mexico. The judicial system is designed to protect the powerful and punish the critics.

I confirmed this Mexican truism in the course of the first six months of litigation with Humberto Moreira, the former president of the ruling party (PRI or Party of the Institutionalized Revolution). Eight months ago Moreira sued me for 10 million pesos (about US$500,000 thousand dollars), in compensation for the harm I had caused to his “feelings, emotions, beliefs, decency [and] reputation” in a column I wrote on January 20, 2016, while Moreira was in jail in Spain because, in the view of the National Court of that country, he had committed the “crimes of money laundering, membership of a criminal organization, […] misappropriation of public funds, and bribery.” After my column was published he was exonerated.

Moreira has done well in his lawsuits, and ended 2016 emboldened. In December he declared to a Coahuila website that “they throw punches, I’ll throw lawsuits.” He is confident about emerging victorious from his litigation, and in a show of bravado to another website avowed that “we’re going to have to build three or four more Ceresos [jails] to find room for all the loudmouths.”

Understandable posturing. He has the means to pay his lawyers and appears to be favored by the Mexican president. José María Irujo wrote in El País that when he was jailed in Madrid the administration of Enrique Peña Nieto “placed at his disposal the entire diplomatic and legal machinery of its embassy in Spain in order to […] establish his legal situation, […] support his family, and get him out of jail.” Last week I experienced the opposite: the embassy of Mexico in Spain refused me the assistance I requested to obtain an urgent power demanded by a federal judge who is examining an aspect of the lawsuit.

A Mexico City judge, Alejandro Rivera Rodríguez, has also protected him. At the beginning of the lawsuit—in September 2016—he ordered the National Banking and Securities Commission to hand over my bank statements to Moreira; unnecessary because I have not been convicted. My lawyers lodged an appeal; the judge accepted it, but imposed a guarantee of about US$10,000, covered with an emergency loan from El Colegio de México (I am a professor there). Last week, the judge ordered that this money be handed to Moreira’s lawyer, who is not even a party to the litigation.

The judge also authorized a psychological evaluation, with questions prepared by Moreira that condemn me in advance. Observe the wording: “The expert must determine whether, as a result of the discrediting, insults, mockery and false accusations of corruption, theft and links with organized crime attributed by […] Sergio Aguayo Quezada [to] Humberto Moreira Valdés his image and credibility as a public figure has been insulted.” We have already requested the judge to be changed from the   Council of the Judiciary.

I have consulted colleagues who have been sued for moral damages and the pattern is similar. For Lydia Cacho the “judicial system is the executive arm of the personal revenge of politicians”; for Miguel Badillo: “Mexican justice is corrupt”; La Vanguardia de Coahuila has been through a “terrible” experience; and Javier Quijano Baz, lawyer of Carmen Aristegui, considers that a large number of Mexican judges are “ignorant” or “corrupt.”

Michel Forst, United Nations rapporteur on the situation of journalists and human rights defenders, agrees with these statements. In a report dated January 24, 2017, he states that in Mexico there is a “deliberate misuse of law” and that “filing unfounded complaints” against journalists and human rights activists is a form of intimidation.

The troubling experiences of recent months have been balanced by the solidarity, affection and support of countless readers and organizations such as Article 19— my representative—and the Mechanism to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists. My lawyers—Héctor and Sergio Beristaín—believe that we will win because there are honest judges. Lydia Cacho always hoped to “find those few ethical and responsible judges” and Rosa Esther Beltrán, a columnist for La Vanguardia de Coahuila who has also been sued, encountered a decent judge.

I hope to emerge safely from this encounter with the roulette of an expensive, slow and unpredictable legal system. For the moment, the only certainties are that the government of Enrique Peña Nieto and a judge in the capital city favor and protect Humberto Moreira, former governor and former president of the PRI.

With the support of: Maura Roldán Álvarez.

***As part of Justice in Mexico’s ongoing support for journalists committed to human rights, transparency, and justice, Justice in Mexico has created a GoFundMe donation page to contribute to Sergio Aguayo’s legal defense fund. For those who wish to support and protect freedom of expression in Mexico, please consider donating to Sergio Aguayo’s legal defense fund. Details can be found at: https://www.gofundme.com/SergioAguayo

Gang violence, overcrowding, corruption underpin deadly Topo Chico prison riot

Topo Chico prison

Families and friends of inmates in Topo Chico waited anxiously to hear updates on their loved ones following the February 11 riot. Photo: Daniel Becerril, Reuters.

03/06/16 (written by kheinle) – A prison riot last month in Monterrey left 49 prisoners dead and more than a dozen others hurt, five of whom suffered serious injuries. The fight broke out in the Topo Chico prison in Monterrey, Nuevo León on Thursday, February 11. It took a combined effort between the Mexican Army (Ejército), Navy (Secretaría de Marina, SEMAR), and Federal Police (Policía Federal, PF) to get the brawl under control, which lasted more than an hour. The brawl allegedly began between prisoners from rival factions of the Zetas criminal organization vying for control of the prison, some with allegiance to Los Zetas’ leader Jorge Iván Hernández Cantú, “El Credo,” and others to leader Juan Pedro Saldivar Farías, “El Z-27.” Reports indicated that prisoners carried knives, razors, bats, clubs, and other homemade weapons; they also set fire to part of the prison.

The deadly riot was the worst such incident in the last three decades in Mexico, and the latest in several smaller uprisings just in Nuevo León alone in recent years. In September 2015, a leader of Los Zetas was stabbed to death in the Topo Chico prison where he was serving time; 11 other inmates were also injured in the fight. Several years prior, 44 prisoners were killed in a fight that broke out in the Nuevo León prison of Apodaca in 2012 between inmates from rival cartels, Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel (Cartel del Golfo, CDG). In 2011, 11 more inmates were killed in Apodaca, although that incident was allegedly not related to organized crime violence, and another 11 prisoners were killed in the Cadereyta prison in Nuevo León that same year. According to Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, CNDH), 82% of the 1,737 violent incidences that occurred in prisons throughout Mexico in 2014 were due to infighting among inmates.

At the time of the February 11 fight, Topo Chico was 35% overpopulated, with nearly 3,800 inmates incarcerated. Prison overcrowding is a serious issue in Mexico, which fuels the environment for riots and deadly brawls like the Topo Chico fight. A report published by the Center for Studies on Impunity and Justice at the University of the Americas in Puebla, the “Global Impunity Index (IGI),” found that state prisons in Mexico are overcrowded by 30%, while the world average is 17%. Prisons are thus understaffed to accommodate the number of inmates. As translated by Mexico Voices, the IGI reports, “the ratio of prison staff responsible for caring for inmates in state rehabilitation centers [in Mexico] is only 20 guards per 100 prisoners. The average for [all] IGI countries is 47 per 100.” Mexico therefore has almost double the amount of prison overcrowding compared to all other IGI countries studied while have less than half the number of prison staff to safely and effectively manage the prisons.

Topo Chico prison

Prisoners set fire to one of the buildings in Topo Chico prison during the brawl. Photo: EPA.

In addition to prison rioting and overcrowding, staggering levels of impunity and corruption further undermine Mexico’s penitentiary system. The National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía, INEGI) ranks Mexico 58th of 59 countries studied for highest levels of impunity in its 2015 ENVIPE survey (Encuesta Nacional de Victimización y Percepción sobre Seguridad Pública), adding that perpetrators in only 1% of all crimes in Mexico are held accountable. INEGI further argues that impunity is one of the ten most pressing issues Mexican society faces today. Even the perpetrators of crime and violence that are found guilty and serve time are not all held to equal standards, a reflection of the corruption that underpins the prison system with prison wards and administrators often bought out by inmates with deep pockets and/or criminal connections. This was the case in the Topo Chico prison, which was unearthed following the brawl in February when it was discovered that the prison was filled with “luxury cells” for incarcerated organized crime group (OCG) leaders including El Credo and El Z-27, reported BBC News. Such inmate cells allegedly include king-size beds, large TVs, mini-bars, air conditioners, mobile saunas, and more.

Since the deadly brawl in Topo Chico, 233 prisoners have been transferred to other prisons in Mexico to reduce the overcrowding and to allow authorities to investigate the incident. Several administrators and guards have also been released or arrested for abuse of authority or charges of homicide, the latter of which is being pressed on one guard who allegedly killed an inmate during the fight. While such actions are steps towards addressing the specific situation at Topo Chico, the fight between rival incarcerated Los Zetas factions that left 49 inmates dead in a prison 35% overpopulated that ultimately led to the discovery of “luxury cells” is indicative of a much more serious problem facing Mexico with its corrupt penitentiary system operating in a climate of impunity. “We are living through tragedy due to the conditions in the prisons,” lamented Nuevo León Governor Jaime Rodríguez Calderón. The former Nuevo León public security secretary added, “The problem is that the majority of Mexican prisons are out of control. They are run by organized crime and the prisoners themselves.”

Sources:

“Encuesta Nacional de Victimización y Percepción sobre Seguridad Pública.” Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía. September 2015.

Mexico Institute. “Mexico’s Security Review 2016: Assessing the Outlook for the Rule of Law.” Conference. Woodrow Wilson Center. January 21, 2016.

Centro de Estudios sobre Impunidad y Justicia. “Índice Global de Impunidad México: IGI-MEX 2016.” Universidad de las Américas Puebla. February 2016.

Centro de Estudios sobre Impunidad y Justicia. “Índice Global de Impunidad México: IGI-MEX 2016; Resumen ejecutivo.” Universidad de las Américas Puebla. February 2016.

“Mexico Justice System: 99% Impunity for Crimes.” Translation. Mexico Voices. February 4, 2016.

Malkin, Elisabeth. “At Least 49 Inmates Killed in Mexican Prison Riot.” New York Times. February 11, 2016.

Paullier, Juan. “49 muertos en enfrentamiento en la cárcel de Topo Chico en México.” BBC News. February 11, 2016.

“Mexico dismantles ‘luxury cells’ in Topo Chico riot jail.” BBC News. February 15, 2016.

“No solo en Topo Chico…también en Apodaca hay lujo y droga.” CNN Expansión. February 18, 2016.